On Friday evening, Russian energy giant Gazprom made known that it would not recommence deliveries of gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. In a tweet, the company stated that further maintenance is needed, just hours before the flow of gas to Germany was scheduled to resume.
On Wednesday, the partially state-controlled energy company had already shut down the key pipeline for what would be three days of maintenance work. In its Friday social media post, Gazprom said it was, however, still encountering multiple leakages of oil; until the “operational defect” has been identified and “eliminated,” the pipeline would remain inoperative, it said, citing “gross [safety] violations.” It has provided no timeframe for when deliveries could restart. The news is ill-timed, as Europe is busily securing the fuel needed to see it through the winter. Natural gas is primarily used to power industry, heat homes and offices, and generate electricity.
Gazprom’s purported technical issues mark the latest episode in what is fast becoming a long-running series—Gazprom has regularly invoked such issues as the reason for reducing gas flows into Germany and other EU member states. Officials of these states have ever looked askance at the company’s claims, deeming them to be no more than a power play by Moscow, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow in turn has blamed sanctions, imposed by the collective West, for the compromise of routine operations and Nord Stream 1 maintenance.
Gazprom’s announcement came mere hours after all finance ministers of the G7 (Group of Seven) countries agreed to implement a price cap on Russian crude oil and petroleum products. European Union Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU bloc should impose a price cap on Russian pipeline gas to foil Moscow’s attempts to manipulate the market.
“We see that the [European] electricity market does not work anymore because it is massively disrupted due to Putin’s manipulations,” she said.
Should such a measure go through, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has meanwhile warned that Moscow would turn off the spigot. Earlier on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov predicted that there could be more such disruptions, saying it is “not the fault of Gazprom that the resources [for maintenance] are missing. Therefore, the reliability of the entire system is at risk.”
On Wednesday, Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller said that sanctions meant Siemens Energy, which supplies equipment for pipelines, could not carry out regular maintenance. Siemens Energy, which normally services Nord Stream 1 turbines, said it was indeed not involved in any maintenance work now being conducted by Gazprom. Yet, it professed it was ready to help if needed since maintenance was excluded from sanctions.
Reduced deliveries via the Nord Stream pipeline underneath the Baltic Sea—alongside lower gas flows coming through Ukraine—have left European states scrambling to fill up storage tanks for winter, prompting many to trigger emergency plans. During the summer, attempts had been made to buy expensive liquefied gas, delivered by ship (primarily from the U.S.), as additional supplies have come by pipeline from Norway and Azerbaijan.
Fears of winter shortage have somewhat eased as storage has progressed; the EU has already reached its goal of filling its gas storage units to 80% despite Russian supply cutbacks. Yet a sudden cutoff could still put Europe in a precarious situation, analysts say.
Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.